By city gardener Sarah Heaton
“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ‘em.” So says Dickon in TheSecret Garden.
I have read this delightful, classic book by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my son and its talk of snowdrops, crocuses and daffadowndilly’s has quite inspired me (again) to plant more bulbs this autumn.
And it is with this child-like fascination with growing things and especially bulbs that I talk here through some pretty combinations of plants and bulbs and then demonstrate how to plant them.
Autumn is the best time to plant bulbs like tulips, daffodils and alliums. This bloated seed, or storage organ, is the promise of hope in the spring. Popular tulip varieties include the deep purple ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Ronaldo’ or curly edged ‘Black Parrot’. Their dark colouring adds some drama to a garden. They also look pretty growing through violas, blue forget-me-nots or wallflowers.
I also like a splash of colour with my tulips and the orange ‘Ballerina’ tulips can add exciting colour contrast to a border or container. My new bulb to try for this autumn is a romantically pink perennial bulb called ‘Pink Impression’.
Here are colour and plant combinations:
Striking Hot Orange
Orange tulips ‘Ballerina’ or ‘Apricot Emperor’ flower in April and May and can be over-planted with burgundy-coloured, Heuchera, an ever-green perennial, for all year round interest.
Pink tulips such as ‘Pink Impression’ (flowers late April/early May) combine well with with hellebores. The Hellebores, sometimes called Christmas roses as this is when they flower, are winter flowering and as they go over in the spring, this delightful pink tulip with grow through them, green foliage of the hellebore all year round.
Dramatic Black and Deep Purple
Deep purple ‘Black Parrot’, ‘Havran’, and ‘Queen of the Night’ flower in May and ‘Ronado’ in early April, can be over-planted with Wallflowers for evergreen foliage and summer flowering, Viola for instant flowers or a green foil of evergreen Euphorbia amygdaloides var. Robbiae.
This favourite bulb comes in many varieties. I particularly like Narcissus Geranium which has a lovely fragrance and is an heirloom variety.
A Word on Alliums
These look lovely in a border especially in late spring and early summer and they will come back year after year. ‘Purple Sensation’ is a favourite variety of mine. They look fantastic with ferns and foxgloves, combining that lovely visual mixture of domes and spires, but prefer the sunnier part of the border.
With all bulbs they look best planted en masseso you can keep adding to your collection year on year or experimenting with new colours, shapes and forms.
My Guide to Planting Bulbs
Here is some guidance on planting tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinths in containers and how to create your own little secret garden:Choose an attractive pot and put crocks in the bottom.Crocks are broken up bits of terracotta pot and they help with drainage. But you could also use stones or gravel.
- Use bulb compost, ideally mixed with sand, and half fill the container. The RHS recommends planting them three times their depth and one bulb width apart.
- Place your bulbs in the container with the pointy bit facing upwards and the flatter end with some roots, sitting on your compost.Add more compost to cover them.
- On top of this, plant something pretty and flowering such as Viola, Wallflowers, Heuchera, Hellebores or Euphorbia as listed earlier.
- Water the container and leave it by your front or back door or balcony and it is sure to bring delight over the coming months and especially in the spring when you will have long forgotten about the tulips but they will emerge, smiling up at you.